Novel approach wins research funding
3 November 2016
Dr Liping Pang, Science Leader at ESR, is one of 117 applications to receive a grant in the latest round from the Marsden Fund. Dr Pang’s three year research project is, ‘A new approach to studying Legionella mobility and persistence in engineered water systems.’
Engineered water systems including plumbing, drinking-water, water tanks, spas and cooling towers, are known to harbour Legionella pneumophila which can cause severe pneumonia (5 –30% death rate). The bacteria are ubiquitous in natural waters, existing as free cells or in association with biofilms and amoebae. In water treatment plants they can break through sand filters and are chlorine resistant so they can enter engineered water systems where they may develop to problematic levels.
Contaminated systems have caused numerous legionellosis outbreaks worldwide. In the USA, where good surveillance data exists, the bacteria are responsible for most of the drinking waterborne disease outbreaks. Nonetheless, many fundamental scientific questions remain unanswered because suitable investigation tools are lacking.
Dr Pang and her research team, Prof Nicholas Ashbolt (University of Alberta), Dr Craig Billington (ESR) and Assoc Prof Elmar Prenner (University of Calgary) will lead the first study to use biocompatible biopolymer micro-particles as pathogen surrogates, which is a significant advance in synthetic surrogate development.
The novel approach will open new avenues for modelling the mobility and persistence of L. pneumophila in water systems. It will reduce reliance on risky, expensive and labour-intensive analyses of actual pathogens and will more accurately model L. pneumophila than traditional methods.
Dr Pang specialises in microbial transport in porous media and has already led two multidisciplinary Marsden projects on virus research related to groundwater. She recently pioneered the development of novel virus and protozoan surrogates for water studies. This research has attracted collaborations with researchers in Austria, Australia, Germany and the UK.
The Marsden Fund was established by the government in 1994. It is a contestable fund administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand (external link) on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council.
Competition for grants is intense. A total of 1097 preliminary applications were received this round. Only 216 applicants were invited to submit a full proposal for final selection. Of these, the Marsden Fund Council recommended 117 to be offered funding at a cost of $65.245 million over three years.